In what was probably one of the most embarrassing displays of defensive efficacy in recent Orlando City history, one starts to wonder where these terrible ideas stem from. Orlando City has virtually no pace across the back four, yet the team played a high line and pushed the fullbacks forward against an LA team with speed and an affinity for a counter attack.
It's obvious that Jason Kreis seeks width and attacking inspiration from his fullbacks, but it's also quite clear that the Lions can't seem to find a middle ground between defensive solidity and the attacking width the coach sees as a necessity. The extra men up front appear to provide a helpful outlet for the attacking moves, but Sunday's game against LA clearly demonstrates the glaring hole within the team.
Enter, the 3-5-2.
As many of you may already know, a functional 3-5-2 is a transitional formation that requires the outside players, called wing backs, to bomb up and down the pitch so that they can provide adequate width going forward as well as supply numbers to the back line. There are two ways to implement the key wing back position. The first being both wing backs shuttle up and down the touchline depending on where they're needed, or, one is designated to move out of defense while the other stays back. The first option allows the defensive line to transform into a five, while the latter changes the formation into a consistent back four.
Orlando would most likely do better with the first option since it doesn't require as much defensive organisation, both fullbacks will simply know their jobs without the function being dependent on another player. It would also be easier to implement because of the personnel change needed in order to make the formation work. Immense pace and athleticism are necessary traits a wing back must possess to play their position correctly in the modern game. Carlos Rivas and Hadji Barry immediately come to mind as some of the faster players in the Orlando City squad, though Barry's defensive capabilities are unknown and might be a significant risk, so pairing Rivas with a healthy Rafael Ramos may be a more sound option. The three at the heart of the defense should be David Mateos, José Aja, and Seb Hines. All of them have improved under Kreis; it's simply their lack of speed that punishes them.
The three in central midfield should be the revitalized Antonio Nocerino, Ricardo Kaká, and Servando Carrasco. This midfield three strikes the correct balance of reliable passing, attacking flare, and defensive stability through each of the players' respective qualities.
The front two should be Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino, because if there was anything positive about the result in LA, it was those two and their ability to play off one another. The ideal situation would be for Molino to operate less as a pure striker and be allowed to drop deep for the ball, essentially being a midfield six at times. The Trinidadian has really come into his own this season and displays his talents through the rarity of a player that can carry the ball through crowded areas and also create dangerous chances through his vision. Putting Molino up front and allowing him the freedom to roam would give him the chance to pick up the ball where he's comfortable, while also utilizing the majority of his energy going forward where it is most efficient.
There's also obvious advantages to having a fluctuating midfield six as Orlando often need the numbers in the center of the park. Hoofing it up to Larin because he can bring the ball down doesn't mean Orlando should. The Canadian is an intelligent runner and that's the area of his game City should seek to refine.
The tactical change to a 3-5-2 wouldn't be easy, but it's not a formation that's often seen in MLS. Orlando City has the ability to implement the change, it's just a matter of convincing players that this is what's best for the team. Every professional player wants to play, and the key man here, in reality, is Rivas. He may be accustomed to being a forward, but he's barely made a meaningful impact this year.
If changing the formation drastically is going to bring the best out of the current crop, I can't imagine why the coaching staff wouldn't at least try it.